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New community health worker targets diabetes in Meriden

New community health worker targets diabetes in Meriden

reporter photo

MERIDEN — The city’s Community Health Center is using part of a state grant to launch a six-month pilot program for a community health worker position. 

Community Health Center, which has more than 200 locations statewide, will run the six-month pilot program at its Meriden location, 134 State St., through June, according to CHC project manager Adriana Rojas, who is leading the pilot program.

The $900,000 grant for all the centers was awarded through the state Office of Health Strategy’s State Innovation Model, a federally funded healthcare reform program. In 2014, the federal Center for Medicare & Medicaid Innovation Initiative awarded Connecticut $45 million to implement its healthcare “innovation plan,” which, in part, has sought to address health disparities in underserved populations with “evidence-based policies and strategies,” including community health workers. 

Community health workers are lay members of a local community who work as liaisons between clinicians and patients,  particularly those in underserved communities. The health workers help patients overcome language barriers and other access issues, like finances and transportation. 

The pilot program is being offered to patients with Type 2 diabetes. CHC in Meriden currently has one community health worker hired for the program and may add more in the future, Rojas said. 

“We recognize that the majority of patients’ lives happen outside of the clinical walls,” Rojas said. “...When providers only have 20, 30 minutes with a patient, that’s not an adequate amount of time to get to know every detail...what challenges they might be facing.” 

Rojas said community health workers help patients achieve goals. For example, a worker may help a Type 2 diabetes reach their goal of losing 20 pounds by connecting them with resources, such as the local YMCA.

Leonora Ortiz, the community health worker hired by CHC for the program in Meriden, said long-term treatment for an issue like diabetes can be especially difficult for those unfamiliar with the medical system.

“I know how it feels to be somebody looking for help,” Ortiz said. “A lot of people don’t trust anyone, they don’t feel like they want to go to the clinic, they don’t want to pay attention to their health. They don’t have enough information. They don’t know there are resources they can use. This will give me the opportunity to work with people face to face.”

She will exclusively work with patients in Meriden, Rojas said.

 A 2010 study performed by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania indicated community health workers can help improve health outcomes, lower health care costs, and reduce hospitalizations. 

The problem that many providers face, however, is that services provided by community health workers are not covered by insurance companies.

“The problem is many community health worker positions are grant-funded, so when the grant money goes away” the positions do also, Rojas said. 

Currently there is no formal certification process for community health workers in Connecticut, meaning insurance companies won’t cover the cost.

The state has looked at ways to establish a certification process. A 20-member Community Health Worker Advisory Committee submitted a report to the legislature last year that recommended two pathways to certification through the Department of Public Health, one with standardized education and training and one that takes into account previous work experience. 

Victoria Veltri, executive director of the state Office of Health Strategy, said a certification process would create a sustainable source of funding for the positions, recognize the value of the work, and grow an adequate workforce. 

Veltri’s office has used the $45 million from the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Innovation to award several grants targeted at community health workers.  Veltri hopes programs such as the one being launched in Meriden will demonstrate the value of community health workers and encourage providers to embrace integrating them.  

“We already know that the community health workers have a lot of value but this adds to that,” Veltri said. 

Information from the Connecticut Mirror was used in this report.


Twitter: @MatthewZabierek